As you know by now, technically, it wasn't a complete first day. I'll get back to that as we progress, but let's start with the opener Eastern Michigan vs. Arizona. It looked a fairly routine afternoon at the old ballpark for the Wildcats scored four in the second inning and tacked on another an frame later. However, the Eagles mounted a fifth inning comeback.
EMU batters scored six times and forced UA starter Preston Guilmet off the mound. Suddenly, the fourth seeded Eagles led, 6-5. Alas, Guilmet's departure yielded unexpected results -- an up-close and personal look at the dynamic Wildcats' bullpen.
A trio of UA relievers, let's just call them fast, faster and fastest for the time being, held EMU in-check long enough to the Wildcats' bats to emerge.
Arizona scored three times in the sixth to pull ahead, 8-6. That forced Eagles' starter Sean Hoffman out of the game. However, EMU reliever Dan Puls came in and tossed two hitless innings, although he allowed a single Wildcats' tally. Puls walked three.
EMU countered the UA rally by plating another run in the top of the seventh to draw the score to 8-7. The Eagles had a runner on third and one out, but EMU couldn't get the tying run across the plate. That opened the door for UA.
C.J. Ziegler's three-run double off the brick monster in left was the highlight of a five-run eighth inning that sealed Arizona's triumph. UA prevailed, 13-7. Back to that three-headed monster of a bullpen.
The win went to reliever Ryan Perry who took over for Guilmet. Perry tossed seeds for 1.2 innings allowing just one hit and striking out five of the six batters he faced. Then came Daniel Schelreth. The Wildcats lefty also worked 1.2 and even allowed one run on three hits, but fanned three more EMU batters. The save went to Jason Stoffel who went 1.1, struck out three of the six Eagles he faced and allowed one hit and one walk.
Combined the trio 4.2 innings scattering five hits, one run, striking out 11 and yielding just one walk. In fact, it was the only walk UA allowed all afternoon.
Eastern Michigan played a tough, pesky game and gave UA all they could handle. Arizona may not have looked spectacular, although that 'pen was dynamite, but they did what they had to do -- win the game and advance to the winner's bracket. It's what championship teams do, especially on the road.
The late game, of course, featured the home-standing Michigan Wolverines against a different set of 'Cats, these from Kentucky. After Kentucky scored a run in the second, Michigan chased UK starter Chris Rusin in the bottom of the same frame by driving in five runs to take the lead. Jason Christian's two-RBI double was the highlight of the uprising.
With UM leading 5-1 in the bottom of the fifth, with two on and two out, the lightning arrived. So did the thunder. And, very soon after, the rain appeared. NCAA officials waited around an hour before calling it a night.
The skies had been threatening on-and-off all day long. Even the Arizona and EMU teams were given the plan for what to do if/when the rain fell upon their contest. Thankfully, that game was completed without any precipitation. However, the two and three seeds didn't fare as well. The two teams will resume play this morning at 11am.
While one can argue who this delay helps the most I know for certain who it hurts the most -- the loser. Because whomever drops the game between UM and UK gets to immediately play in another game. Only the second game will be an elimination game against a well-rested and probably cranky EMU side.
If the continuation game happens to drain either side's bullpen, their second game of the day could be more challenging regardless of which bracket they are in.
Let's hope the weather, which has been very nice so far this morning, cooperates today. Hopefully, I'll have an update late, late tonight on Day Two.